A people have an energy. However one defines a unit of people, every unit of people has a prevailing energy. The energy is characteristic of a people, however defined, like a magnetic field generated in a locality and, like magnetic fields, are formed by numerous small particles within certain characteristics of the land. The energy that characterizes a people is the sum-total of the numerous individuals that define the collectivity.
We Muslims have a number of cross-cutting identities. We are characterized by ethnicity and race. We are characterized by gender. We are characterized by age and by class. We are characterized by nationality. Some of us are Pakistanis, some of us are Indians, some of us are Persian, some of us are Arab, and so on. But we also are characterized by our Islamicity; by the fact that at least in theory, we all have the same referential authoritative textual source. We all have at the center of our reference system the Qur'an, Islamic beliefs, Islamic teachings, and Islamic normativity.
The Islam that characterizes us is a sub-product of what we generate in our consciousness - what we think about; what preoccupies our minds; the systems of knowledge that we pursue and instill within us, within our families, within our friends. Whether we realize it or not, from the moment we wake up to the moment that we go to sleep, we are actively engineering the energy that characterizes a people. We are actively engineering that magical, intangible thing that we call the culture of a people. The culture of a people is the sum-total of what people consider to be authoritative, influential, persuasive, imperative, and pressing in their lives.
Culture is something that we all feel, like an invisible energy in existence, something that influences our priorities, our systems of belief, our moods, our feelings; but it is very difficult to define, to tangibly touch or even describe. Put simply, what each of us thinks about from the moment we wake to the moment we go to bed, and even what we dream about is affirmatively and directly constructing what defines us as a people. It is also why what defines us is complex, as we come from different classes, different ethnicities, different nationalities. Islam is indeed a major part of what defines a Muslim people.
The course that I am currently teaching is Public International Law. In the course of teaching this class, I asked my students how many knew the story of the Bosnian Rape Camps. Those of you who are old enough will remember in the early '90s when the Serbs built camps where they forcibly held Muslim women and systematically raped them in what notoriously became known as the Bosnian Rape Camps. Thousands upon thousands of Muslim women were raped, their lives destroyed.
When I asked my students, who are in law school studying international law, “How many know about the Bosnian Rape Camps?” I was surprised that very few hands went up. We are not even that far away from the memory of the Bosnian Rape Camps, but already in a new generation, many have never heard of the Bosnian Rape Camps. Now, if you are a thinking person, that makes you reflect on the energy of a people. What is it about our energy that makes abuses directed against us so forgettable and so unnotable?
Imagine if these rape camps had victims that were anything but Muslim? Imagine how many movies, how many books, how many conferences, how many symposiums, how many lectures there would be. Imagine how many memorial museums would document, speak about, investigate and compensate for the systematic abuses that were inflicted upon a people. As I looked at my students, the young faces of the lawyers of tomorrow, I knew that, of course, all of them have heard of the Salman Rushdie scandal and the Satanic Verses. All of them have heard of Bin Laden and al-Qaeda. All of them have heard about ISIS, but very few of them had heard about the Bosnian Rape Camps. What does this tell us about us as a people? Who's responsible?
As I was reflecting upon this reality, I started reading an interview with Mansoor Adayfi, the author of the newly released, “Don't Forget Us Here.” In the book, Adayfi documents how he was a young student in Yemen, a budding academic, full of dreams about becoming a scholar, and how he later went to Afghanistan to do research, where he was abducted by Afghani warlords and sold to American forces. This is because the United States had communicated to the Afghani warlords that they are willing to pay money for any Muslim in Afghanistan that the warlords claim is a possible terrorist. The United States made it known that they were willing to pay anywhere from a couple of thousand dollars to $150,000, depending on who you bring them.
The Americans bought Adayfi from the Afghani warlords. Notably, Adayfi documents how the Afghani warlords did not mistreat him. They actually treated him quite well, other than selling him, as if into slavery, to the Americans. The Americans took him to a black site where they tortured him for reasons he is still not aware of. The fact that Mansoor Adayfi was an Arab and a Muslim was sufficient enough. Eventually, they transported him to Guantanamo, the setting of which he recalls a truly shocking narrative. In Guantanamo, there are Muslims from around the world; Muslims who are systematically tortured and abused, some dying in Guantanamo and buried in unmarked graves. Adayfi spends 14 years in Guantanamo without a single charge brought against him, 14 years in which he is systematically tortured and abused.
Eventually the Americans informed Mansoor Adayfi that they cannot send him back to Yemen, nor can they send him to Afghanistan. They do not want to keep him because after 14 years, they know that he has nothing to do with anything involving terrorism. So, Mansoor Adayfi is given a choice. He can be sent to Saudi Arabia, who will promptly imprison him in a secret prison for life. Or the United States offers money to any country that is willing to take the victims of Guantanamo. So, the United States pays money to grab Muslims from around the world, brings them to Guantanamo where they are systematically tortured, and even killed, and then the United States offers money to any country that will take those that the United States has realized have nothing to do with terrorism.
There is not a single Muslim country that is willing to take Mansoor Adayfi, other than Saudi Arabia, but his fate will be in prison for life. So what country actually takes Adayfi? Serbia, the same country that is responsible for the Bosnian Rape Camps. Why does Serbia take Mansoor Adayfi? Because they want American money, not because they like Muslims. Serbia, where Adayfi remains today, begins a new legacy of abuse, human rights violations, and mistreatment. Again, Adayfi is someone who has nothing to do with terrorism.
As I reflect upon what I just read, I remember the first Muslim chaplain hired by the American government to go to Guantanamo, and remember the book that he published years ago where he documents how, because he protested the torture and mistreatment of Muslims in Guantanamo and because he protested that soldiers in Guantanamo greatly desecrated the Qur'an, he was in turn arrested, although he is a graduate of West Point. His only crime is that he was a Muslim protesting abuses. He was arrested, tortured, charged, and ultimately not convicted. After years of torture and abuse, he was simply released. I remember the numerous books I read, the testimonials written by Muslims documenting how they were tortured, abused, humiliated, held in Guantanamo for years and eventually released to the custody of one country or another without charge or conviction.
All the people who have brought attention to Mansoor Adayfi's book, like all the people who have brought attention to Chaplain Yee’s book - the Muslim chaplain, the graduate of West Point who has been arrested and charged - are all non-Muslim. Adayfi's book is endorsed on the back cover entirely by non-Muslims. All the awards he won, including the Richard Margolis Award for nonfiction and the prestigious Episodic Lab Award for nonfiction, have all been awarded by non-Muslims. In Muslim conferences and Muslim symposia, Chaplain Yee is not the one that gets invited to talk to Muslims about the abuses he witnessed against fellow Muslims and against the Qur'an in Guantanamo. No, he is shunned and marginalized, just like Mansoor Adayfi.
I shake my head and I think, “God, what happened to us? Why is this? Why is it like this? Why is it that I cannot get the attention of my fellow Muslims and bring it towards what God has told us matters the most - justice and truth?”
Then it came to me, just yesterday. Again, the Israelis stormed Aqsa Mosque. Again, Israeli forces protected Jewish extremists as they desecrated the Aqsa Mosque. Again, just yesterday, three Palestinians were killed in separate incidents by Israelis. One of the incidents involved a sick, poor woman, who has four children. The youngest of her children is four years old and the oldest of her children is 10 years old. The Israelis shot and killed her near the Aqsa Mosque. The Israelis informed her family that they killed her because she tried to stab a soldier. No witnesses other than Israeli soldiers. No investigation other than what Israel wants. These children are now without a mother. The woman who simply went to the Aqsa Mosque, who left her children home, was killed without explanation, but who cares? Just more Palestinians killed by Israelis after the Aqsa Mosque is desecrated.
I checked the news. Has any Muslim country condemned this? Has any Muslim country protested? Has any Muslim country objected? There has been nothing. As I am tried to figure out what to talk about in this khutbah, I find a video of a Hindu journalist stomping on the body of a Muslim in India, more specifically in the Assam Province. Why? Because while the nationalistic Hindu government in India rules political Islam as forbidden, political Hinduism is not, and political Buddhism is not in Myanmar, and political Christianity is not in Germany, in Holland or in many European countries. There are 200 million Muslims in India, and they are the poorest in India. They have the worst jobs in India. India is becoming quickly an apartheid regime against its Muslim citizens.
We have the genocide against Muslims in China, and now we have an apartheid regime being instituted in India against its 200 million Muslims - 200 million Muslims who occupy the worst jobs and the lowest classes, whose government has made sure that they are the least educated and the least capable of social mobility. The Indian government in the Assam Province and elsewhere is demolishing the homes and businesses of Muslims, confiscating their lands, displacing them from their homes where they lived for decades or even a century. In the course of doing so, the police shot and killed a Muslim, and a Hindu photographer simply could not contain his hate and so he started stomping on the body of this Muslim, and that is the video I watched.
Because that video was leaked and there was outcry in the world, the Indian government arrested those involved. But on video, we can see a Hindu police officer hugged the photographer after he stomped on the body of the Muslim to congratulate him and celebrate his deed. Muslims in India are persecuted, treated as second- and third-class citizens, their homes are demolished, their businesses are destroyed, their mosques are razed to the ground, and again, I checked the news: the only country that protested was Pakistan. We look to Saudi Arabia, complete silence. We look to Egypt, silence. We look to the Emirates, the supposed country of tolerance, Hamza Yusuf's favorite, and we again find complete silence. After all, the Emirates gave an award to Modi, the head of the Hindu Nationalist Party in India. If India even thought that its business with the Emirates or Saudi Arabia would be at risk, the persecution of Muslims would end immediately.
So I ask, what occupies your mind? How are you contributing to the energy of the people? Are you interested in where you are going to eat? Are you interested in your career? Are you preoccupied with your own affairs? What discourses prevailed upon Muslim for years? What are Muslims talking about? What are your Imams preoccupied with? Rape camps in Bosnia, apartheid in India, genocide in China, genocide in Myanmar, desecration of the Aqsa Mosque, murder of Palestinians, thousands of Muslims tortured and abused in Guantanamo and in black sites, and what occupies your mind? What do you think about? What do you expect your imams to think about? What do you like to hear from your imams?
Every time you decide to think about something, you are testifying before God. If you spend the time to buy a book about the plight of Muslims and you spend the time reading that book, this is a testimony that you are offering before God. You might do nothing more than that, but still it is your testimony before God. Every time you attend a jum'a and you expect from your imam to talk to you about Reverend Yee, the Muslim chaplain who is accused of treason and is subsequentially tortured; every time you go to the Board of Directors and ask, "Why don't we have Chaplain Yee come talk to us? Why don't we bring attention to the plight of Muslims who are suffering?" you are testifying before God. Every time you decide to tolerate from your leaders and from your imams trivia, nonsense and pietistic affectations, this is also your testimony before God.
What occupies your thinking? What occupies your heart? What do you care about in life? Where do you put your attention? All I ask for is your attention, because although you might not realize it, you are affirmatively constructing the energy of the Muslim people in the world. You are affirmatively communicating that either we Muslims are worth something, or you are communicating that we Muslims are worthless. Why is it that non-Muslims are the ones that buy the books written by Muslims about the abuses they suffered in Guantanamo? Why is it that all the attention Adayfi receives is from non-Muslims? Why? You see, everything is connected, everything is related.
Last week, I talked about the plight of a people right in the heart of our fold: your sisters and your daughters, Muslim women exploited and abused by men who are in a position of charismatic, moral, spiritual authority. I was both pleased and disheartened by the number of women who reached out and said, "Yes, this happened to us, thank you for speaking up." But I am also disheartened by the lack of interest in the Muslim community. It is a massive problem.
We have a Qur'an reciter and the testimony of over 14 women who testify that on separate occasions, he not only sexually harassed them but also gave them “roofies” (date rape drugs), knocked them out, and raped them. In the testimony of these women, that have been out since at least 2013, that Qur'an reciter has sexually assaulted numerous women, not only sexually, but even verbally and physically. His victims are young, inexperienced women. This Qur'an reciter got to the point of, after raping a woman, as she was crying, he turned on his own recording of his own Qur'an recitation in an attempt to comfort her. This Qur'an reciter transmitted STDs to at least two of his victims, and one of his victims, because of this STD, now has cervical cancer. I spend a good portion of the night reading through the Facebook page of this Qur'an reciter, and I do not see any mention of the women victims who are shamed, marginalized and excluded.
Then people, who are incompetent about Islamic Law, although they are on Shura Councils, often say, “Well, these women do not have four witnesses. If they do not have four witnesses, they will be subject to the laws of qazf.” These people are ignorant, illiterate. The four witnesses are needed when one is going to implement the hadd punishment, stoning or flogging. We do not need four witnesses when it is an allegation of abuse, not involving hadd, but involving condemning, shaming, warning and protecting.
The absolute silence is isolating these women, shaming these women, communicating to them that they do not matter, as numerous people on this man's Facebook praise him and celebrate him without consequence. All the institutions where he worked, and where he was fired for the same conduct, covered up for him and continue to do so to this day.
Then there is Muhammad Abdullah Saleem, 77 years old, the founder of the Institute for Islamic Education in Elgin, also convicted of sexual abuse. This is public knowledge: he has pled guilty to sexually abusing a minor. Unfortunately, he was merely given a slap on the wrist - he got probation for three years. But again, he claims to be a religious authority, and probably the prosecutor did not want to retraumatize the victims. But he is a registered sex offender, not allowed to be within 500 feet of a school, not allowed to be in the presence of women in private, especially minors. I am shocked that although he is a convicted registered sex offender with testimony on public record, testimony from the women that were abused by this man being absolutely horrendous and terrifying, that he is still invited to Islamic conferences and Islamic institutions and still praised as Hazrat-this and Hazrat-that.
The energy of the people is their collective moral judgment. You tell me what our collective moral judgment is. You tell me: what are the cultural characteristics of Muslim communities around the world, other than that they suffered genocide and they are silent. Other than: they suffered torture and they are silent. Other than: they suffered rape in rape camps and they are silent. Other than they suffered sexual abuse and they are silent. Other than: they suffered misogyny, hate and violence and they are silent. They are worse than silent; they are engaged in superficiality. They love people who sell them falsehoods, who sell them fantasy, who sell them a make believe world of pieties without meaning. No principles. No morality. No positions. No standards. Nothing of what characterizes a moral people.
Then I remember God's revelation. “You were the best people given to humanity.” Why? “Because you enjoy what is good and resist what is evil.” Really? Where are those people? Are we the best people given to humanity anymore when we cover up abuses and celebrate immorality and are silent before atrocities, when our priorities are mixed up, when we are drowning in selfishness, egocentrism and preoccupation with everything that does not matter? How many of us feel compelled to spend a few dollars to just support honest testimony of a fellow Muslim whose life was destroyed for no other reason than prejudice, ignorance and Islamophobia? How many of us thought of inviting Chaplain Yee, our Muslim brother who has been treated so unjustly by his own country? How many of us thought: instead of celebrating those wolves in Shaykh clothes, inviting honest voices that can educate us about our rights, that raise our consciousness, that uplift our morality, that makes us a people that stand for something?